This morning I woke up and checked my email. There were 13 messages (5 related to MakeUseOf; 4 related to iSupportU, the bicycle-based IT company I work for; 3 related to Boulder Community Computers, a not-for-profit I help out; and 2 personal ones).
As though this isn’t overwhelming enough, I needed to monitor the ice hockey pool I moderate (go Wings!), so I logged into Facebook to check that. I found and responded to a couple of messages. I then checked Twitter, Google Voice and (just for good measure) my previous MakeUseOf articles for comments. Finally, I’d noticed I’d left my IM program on (which does Facebook Chat, AIM, MSN and Google Talk) so I had several messages to follow-up with there.
That’s a lot to keep track of.
This is the cardinal problem for modern computer users: too many inboxes. The new version of Ubuntu, which I’ll be looking at in more depth later this week, looks to help alleviate this problem by bringing notifications from all these different sources under one roof. The effort is the result of numerous changes the Ubuntu team has made in the past couple of years, changes that bring to Ubuntu something no other operating system has by default: one universal notification inbox for your email, social networks and instant messages.
This is exciting to me, and not only because I’ve been looking for a way to unite my various inboxes for a long time. No, this is also exciting to me because it’s Ubuntu innovating in a huge way; a way in which Windows and OSX haven’t. Best of all, this type of Ubuntu email setup is really easy. Let’s take a look at the process!
When you first install Ubuntu you can click your notification applet – a little envelope in the system tray – and you’ll see none of your inboxes are set up to be checked yet:
You’ll also see that getting started is as simple as clicking the “Set up” button for your chat, email and broadcast (social network) services. If you click the button to set up your chat, you’ll be presented with the following window:
All you need to do is enter the username and password for all your chat services, and you’re done your Ubuntu email setup. Setting up your social networks is just as easy; setting up your email, unfortunately, requires all the usual hassle of setting up a POP3/IMAP email setup, but it’s relatively painless if you’ve ever set up an email client before.
If you don’t like to use a desktop client for your email there are third party programs for integrating web-based email; more on that in future articles.
Using The Indicator Applet
Once all your services are set up you’re ready to go. You can click any service to launch it; you’ll know it’s running if you see an arrow to its left. If you get a new email, or receive a chat message, you’ll see a slick notification on the screen. When you click the envelope, you’ll see the subject lines from any new emails and also the name of any contact trying to talk to you on IM.
Note that you won’t see every status update from your social network friends here – that would get overwhelming really quickly – but you will see the number of updates that occurred since you last checked your social client.
The Programs This Uses
By default, the indicator applet accesses three main programs to show you this information: Evolution mail, Empathy instant messenger and Gwibber social client. That last program, Gwibber, is included by default in Ubuntu for the first time in 10.04, the version of Ubuntu coming at the end of the month. It integrates all your social networks into one feed, and looks like this:
If these three programs aren’t your favorite, don’t worry: integration with a number of other programs, including Pidgin and Thunderbird, are on the way. This little applet hopes to be everyone’s go-to inbox, and I think it does a good job at that.
List of “Inboxes” Supported By Default
MSN (aka Windows Live Messenger)
Any POP3/IMAP-enabled account
I’ve been looking for a way to combine all my inboxes in one place for a long time; little did I know my favorite operating system would make this dream feature of mine a default. Previously I didn’t really see the point of the indicator applet, but with the addition of access to one’s social networks I see a bright future for this handy little tool.
If you’re really interested in the next version of Ubuntu, and you’re brave enough to try something still in beta, check it out here. If you’d rather wait, the full version comes out on April 29th, and you can always read more about Ubuntu tomorrow when my next post goes up.
What do you think? Is this a killer feature for Ubuntu, or more bloat you’ll never use? Will you yourself use the indicator applet now that it supports social networks, or will you continue to remove it as part of your Ubuntu setup routine?
Studies have found no causal link between commenting and cancer, so you might as well post something!